Starlite Terrace is a spare, sensitive quartet of stories narrated by a German expatriate living in a rundown Los Angeles apartment complex. In "The Man at Noah's Window," Rex remembers a day 35 years ago when he realized his mother was a hooker, discovers that he was named after a movie theater and quarrels with Pete, a nosy neighbor who doubts that Rex's father was really hired for close-ups in 1950s westerns--specifically, to replace Gary Cooper's hands in High Noon.
"Solar Eclipse" centers on Moss McCloud, a former Broadway casting agent who carries around the manuscript of his autobiography, written to justify himself to his daughter. The third story, "Rider on the Storm," focuses on Gary, a new Starlite resident, who persuades the narrator to give him a ride so he can borrow some money; their trip unexpectedly erupts into violence.
Finally, in "The Woman in the Sea of Stars," the Starlite's manager, June, remembers her husband, whose many infidelities included Marilyn Monroe, then segues to tales of Bugsy Siegel and the atom bomb tests in Nevada that contaminated the sands where John Wayne shot the movie that killed him with cancer.
Roth's aging characters are all very aware of mortality; their stories are confessions and excuses told by morally compromised people tangled up in their own failures and self-deceptions. Roth respects his time-battered losers, though, and offers the Hollywood mythos back to us with an authentic fascination and a perception all his own. --Nick DiMartino